Dean Hosts Teaching Panel

Showing slides of a snake expanding its body as it gulps down an egg five times as large as its head, biology professor Farish A. Jenkins Jr. demonstrated Friday the benefits of using specimens in his Organic and Evolutionary Biology classes.

In the third and final conversation on teaching and learning—a principle that Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith has set as a priority—Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds led a panel discussion on the importance of using collections to teach.

Jenkins considered the collections that he used “essential to his classes.”

“Although I know some of my colleagues from the [Harvard University Office of] General Counsel might see this picture and say it screams ‘liability,’” said Jenkins, who paced energetically as he pointed to the projected picture of a College senior holding a lethal snake.

But Jenkins, who showed pictures of 30-foot anaconda snake skins spanning desks in a classroom, said that this interaction allowed for a sense of understanding of the objects of study.


“How are you going to teach animal diversity or variation in a species without looking at them?” Jenkins asked. “Collections are necessary to our students.”

History of Art and Architecture professor Jeffrey F. Hamburger presented on a final project he assigned to students in lieu of a research paper.

Hamburger described and showed pictures of students recasting old medieval texts into modern books and drawing modern books into a medieval form.

“I think the students at first think it will be easier than writing a research paper,” Hamburger said. “But some of them really provide imaginative products.”

But Hamburger said that these projects—“which help instill real research habits”—are both time and resource intensive.

“It requires the cooperation of the libraries,” Hamburger said. “And so it requires investment and more resources.”

University Professors Laurel T. Ulrich and Peter L. Galison ’77 also joined Jenkins and Hamburger in the panel discussion.

Smith, who was at the Friday event, has re-emphasized the importance of teaching and learning this past academic year, as FAS has worked to recover from a $220 million deficit.

The initiative hopes to strengthen the school’s educational priorities and to benefit research and teaching initiatives, recognizing that both are crucial for the development of better classes.

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at


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